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Archive for the ‘Self-discovery’ Category

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes 
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!…

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. 

 ~Rumi

Resistance is so devious!  Now that I started meditating twice a day again, it convinced me that I don’t need to journal (and blog) even though writing deepens my consciousness and feeds my soul; and I fell for it! I have not written in days and I feel it.   It’s not that I am not having insights and writing ideas—on the contrary; but I allow myself to be distracted by excuses and, supposedly, being “responsible”.  Not only that, but a study of my own process would help me be more compassionate about others’ resistances.  But resistance is also insidious and unimaginably perseverant.  It does not give up, and I am not going to feed it, at least for now, by spending my entire time writing session writing about it.   Okay, this is freaky and an example of resistance’s chicanery. A Steven Pressfield quote disappeared from the page even though I am using track changes!  In the War of Art, Pressfield writes that “[t] he more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it. Know what he is talking about?

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Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,

talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

~~Marianne Williamson~~

Have you ever asked for a sign from the Universe and once you got it tried to look the other way?   That just happened to me ten days ago.  See, I have been thinking about returning to the blog for a while, but I could not muster up the energy.  Then, one day I decided to wait for a sign, and I received an email that “Sue” had just signed up for blog notifications.  Strange that after a seven-month hiatus from writing, someone should sign up, but it happened. Thank you Sue for acting as the messenger I asked for. So, here I am again, grateful to be reconnecting with you and with me. Since I write about me, how could I write if I abandoned myself?

So much has happened since January 13, my last entry that I was overwhelmed thinking about where to start, and now, I think I know. The details themselves are not important; instead, I will share my process, which is why I started this blog in the first place.  As a spiritual seeker and a teacher, I wanted to put myself out there to break the isolation we all feel when we think we are the only ones battered by inner enemies. But resistance got the best of me, and I succumbed to self-criticism and doubt.  I also became lost in the whirlwind of another’s dream, too terrified to dream my own.  I see realize that, often, instead of being the protagonist in my own blockbuster movie, I have grabbed a supporting role.   I remember in college encouraging Ana Sozio to go for a PHD, thinking I could never get one, myself, until the day, three years later, when I allowed myself to feel the desire to go for it.

But after, overwhelmed by the power of dreaming and dream realization, I abruptly trashed my career dreams and began dreaming of a partner.  Was the empiricist or doubting Thomas in me testing reality to see if I could do it again?  I realized that dream 15 years ago when I met my husband, and I was two for two.  Amazing!  Yet, unknowingly, I shut down the dream factory—outsourced them to other manufacturers.  Let them dream.  Not me. I’m done.  Looks like I was frightened by the light.

Of course, other things happened in my life to halt dream production.  But like the little shoot growing through the crack on the sidewalk, I am turning to the light, reconnecting to myself and to my dreams.  As Neale Donald Walsh reminded me this morning, “You have got to have a dream if you want to have a dream come true.”

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The biggest obstacle to our staying with the new thoughts we take on is that “positive” thoughts often generate “negative” feelings.

David Friedman

This time, I have taken even longer to get back to writing, but this is a pattern for me, and I have discovered that it is related to my “fear of success.”  Whenever I am succeeding at something, I freak out, and I stop.  But this freaking out is not loud and conspicuous; it is insidious and sneaky.  It tiptoes and whispers so lowly in my ear, that I can’t defend myself against it, succumbing helplessly to its grip.  Looking back, as the affirmations for my blog increased so did my fear.  But instead of taking in the love, I jumped from the present moment into a foreboding future of writer’s block and rejection.  They say you create your reality, and I did.  If my fear was that you would stop reading—- well, you have, because I stopped writing. It is interesting that instead of writing, “stop reading”; I wrote “top reading I am more afraid of the former than the latter.  In other words, how can I someday have a widely read blog when I can’t accept the job of my current readership?

Over the years, I have learned of my difficulty tolerating the sensations associated with love and success, and I have been working on changing that. When I was young, I avoided falling in love because I could not tolerate the exhilaration after meeting someone who excited me. I felt so out of control and agitated that I wouldn’t sleep for days.  The same happened if I were excited about a job. To protect myself, I just realized, I shielded my heart with the cloak of avoidance. If I don’t succeed, I don’t have to deal with my heart prancing around, overwhelmed by the excitement (terror?) of infinite possibility. Although I am still prey to avoidance, since I often don’t see it coming, I am learning to mindfully sit with the sensations associated with success. Sometimes, when I sit with Judith Chusis, my mentor and collaborator on the Success is an Inside Job project, I am assaulted by anxiety that makes me want to jump from my skin or even throw up.  At those times, I soothe myself by recognizing the pattern, telling myself that I am okay, and bringing myself back to the present moment. But when the fear is restrained, I don’t become aware of its grip until days or weeks later.

As you know from past blogs, I do background research as I write.  When I searched using the keywords “tolerance of positive emotions”, I could only find information, mostly psychoanalytic about tolerating negative feeling states.  Interesting, I just discovered that for me, positive feelings become negative because I feel deregulated.  It’s no wonder I have been avoiding the things that make my heart race and frantically dance! So, what am I going to do about this?  I am going to continue to work on tolerating the sensations associated with expansion by sitting with them until I make them my friends, as Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, would say, and I am going to read the book, Thought Exchange, by David Friedman.  Friedman, a highly successful songwriter, author, and speaker, has written a book about changing your thoughts to create your reality. When my friend Cath told me about it, I skeptically asked what was unique about this book since others have expressed this idea in, for example, Ask and it is Given, Conversations with God, and the Secret.  What she replied, caught my attention.  According to Friedman, you must learn to tolerate the sensations associated with your positive thoughts.  I have to go order my book.  To be continued.

P.S.  I hope you had a peaceful holiday.

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Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Wow, I have gone three weeks without posting; that is scary and so sad, I feel like crying.  As I write this, I want to escape by calling or emailing friends—-everything to avoid doing something I love, anAdd Audiod I finally understand why.  Since I last posted, I attended a four-and-a-half day Success is an Inside Job™ workshop (SIIJ) .  What an amazing gift!  Thank you Dr. Judith Chusid for having the vision, heart, and determination to embody your dream, thirty years after conducting your original research success blocks.  I feel turned a corner, and since re-entering my life last Monday evening, my insights have deepened and expanded.  Early in the workshop, I completed questionnaires about my blocks to success (perfectionism, self-doubt, low-self-esteem, and survivor guilt) and fear of success signals (I have 25, including fear, esteem issues, distractions—my personal favorite, and negative self-talk).

We were also assigned “success” and “spiritual” buddies upon arrival, with whom we discussed our answers giving each other feedback about what we heard each other say.  One of my buddies, I can’t remember which one, was struck by my saying that I avoid the things I love the most.   Her reflecting that back to me inspired me to send a question out to the Universe:  why would I resist the things that make me feel most alive?  Neither she nor I could make sense of it, then.  But one morning, the answer came to me via a phone call from a friend.  I awoke thinking I would journal and focus on myself, determined to write and not be distracted, but when the phone rang, I automatically answered it.  As soon as I got off the phone, I received a text from another friend, needing my input on a matter, and despite my resolve to write, I dropped everything, twice.  This is not surprising, given my childhood programming, and my love of distractions.  Let me explain.

During the workshop, we did a psychodrama of my family dynamics affecting my relationship to career, and it was powerful! The reenactment, including my father, mother, and three and six-year-old inner children, and Dr. Chusid’s astute questions and observations expanded my understanding of my career paralysis.   First, there is my chronic avoidance of responsibility.  As the eldest child, I became my family’s connection to the English-speaking world as soon as I learned English at age seven, filling out crucial immigration forms, school absence notes, and translating. The trauma of such early daunting responsibility burdens me to this day.  Throughout my adulthood, I have said “NO” for all the times I could not, then.

Second, there is the dream issue—whose dreams have I been or not been living?  Ever since I can remember, my father dreamed that I would become a medical doctor.  Mom, on the other hand, wanted me to become a cartoonist, because of my artistic talent in elementary school.  When Judith asked me what my dreams were, I was speechless.   Dreams?  Looking back, I became a social worker because I was not ready to face the world, I needed an excuse to go back to school, and my therapist in college was a social worker.  My goal was to become a psychoanalyst, just like he was, but research and policy classes in graduate school convinced me, otherwise.  Those classes challenged me intellectually and sparked in me a commitment to social justice and to creating knowledge about Latino/as in the US.  Unhappy with the low status and low pay of social workers,  before and after graduation, I entertained a doctorate in psychology and even medical school, but chose to get a doctorate in social work, instead—not because I wanted to teach, but because I wanted options.  I realize now, that my doctorate and finding my life partner were my last career/personal dreams.  After that, the dream well ran dry.  By the way, giving upon reaching a goal is a fear of success signal, and that is exactly what I did after graduation; I landed the highest academic job I could and I retired, so-to-speak, embarking, instead, on my spiritual quest.

When Judith asked what I wanted to do in my career, I blurted that I wanted to work with her doing the workshops.  “Are you sure?,” she asked.  “Do you really want to do this, or is it that you are use to being a helper?”  I am thinking.   .   .  She ended the session with a brilliant solution that honors the six-year-old that balks at responsibility.  “You will have success without responsibility,” she pronounced.  Feeling uncomfortably irresponsible, I protested, “But it’s not that I don’t want responsibility.”  And, she repeated, “You will have success without responsibility.”

Later, I asked her what she meant; success without responsibility means that I only do the things that I want to do, for now.  I am not to force the six-year-old, which if you think about it, would be abusive.  But then, there is the lingering issue of my being a disappointment.  Since I disappointed my father, despite my accomplishments, part of me feels, why even try when I will end up disappointing people, anyway?  But this is when I need to sing the refrain from the Ricky Nelson song—-remember him from the sixties?  “But it’s all right now, I’ve learned my lesson well. You see, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.

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If distress is the affect of suffering, shame is the affect of indignity, transgression and of alienation. Though terror speaks to life and death and distress makes of the world a vale of tears, yet shame strikes deepest into the heart…. shame is felt as inner torment, a sickness of the soul….the humiliated one feels himself naked, defeated, alienated, lacking in dignity and worth.

Silvan Thomkins

Pretend this is Sunday, though it is really Wednesday.  I was so busy this weekend that I never sat down to write my Blog.  Invariably, we sacrifice those things that are most meaningful to us; though that is not to say that working on my Cuba research, preparing for class, and Sunday Services are not important.  But we sacrifice those things that are of core relevance to our Self.  Enough with the sermon, especially since it isn’t Sunday!  In the past I have written about my feelings of dread, but have I explicitly explored my feelings of shame, embodied by my Inner Greek Chorus?   Perhaps I have and this is yet another level of realization.

This week shame came to me intellectually and affectively, so why not face it?  In class, we were trying to discern the difference between fear/dread and instinct, and shame.  Isn’t shame an instinct, too, one Korean female student asked?  After some discussion, we concluded that while fear is an instinct, or innate, shame is learned.  Although I am the last person qualified to be referencing the Bible, I noted the Adam and Eve, whom free of shame went around naked, until they disobeyed God.  After that, they began covering up, which is what we do when we feel ashamed, both physically and metaphorically, so much so, that according to Marc Miller, a California psychologist, this cover up is so strong that shame receives little attention in psychology practice, research, and training.

Shame, according to Helen Lewis, a psychoanalyst consists of a family of emotions—humiliation, embarrassment, feelings of low self-esteem, belittlement, and stigmatization. Throughout my life my shame has been so profound that, I could not see it as it was so all encompassing.  But where does shame, my shame come from?  Adam and Eve’s shame came from disobeying God and separating themselves from a sublime ideal; shame is inflicted by society (teachers, peers, religion, for example) and by our parents as a punishment for deviation.  In my case, I was born with an overdeveloped superego, which may or may not be related to having been born a Virgo, the perfectionist astrological sign.  Add to that mix, a demanding father with an insatiable appetite for achievement I could never satisfy.  My shame also comes from being different.  I was the girl who dared not to aspire to marriage and motherhood, and I whom was fascinated by ideas and people more so than by toys and play.  And, of course, we must not forget that, as a female immigrant who looked, acted, and related differently, I stood out from the wallpaper I tried to melt into.

Although my shame has become more compassionate in recent years, this week it came to meet me when I did not write my Blog on Sunday, when I feared not fulfilling a research deadline, and when I reconnected with my feelings of shame of my Cuban hillbilly working-class background.  Despite having a PhD from a world-class university, part of me feels daunted that I am interviewing people from the Cuban elite—people I never would have met had it not been for fate and history. Exposing or uncovering myself, here, is dizzying and nauseating, but it is also helping to liberate me, as I learn that I commit no sins for being myself.  What are you hiding that needs to be exposed so that its bind over you loosens?

References:

Shame. The many faces of shame.

Tomkins, Silvan S.Nathanson, Donald L. (Ed), (1987). The many faces of shame, (pp. 133-161). New York, NY, US: Guilford Press, xvi, 370 pp

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We have to live today by what truth we can get today and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood.

~William James

 

I am having a hard time getting started with my writing today, perhaps because it is blog day.  I have become self-conscious of the “me” focus.  But as they say, write what you know, and I know most about the process of getting to know myself.  Notice how I don’t say, that I know myself, because I don’t.  Can we ever say that we know ourselves when we are constantly changing and, if we are lucky, surprising ourselves, and others?  This morning The Today Show featured an interview with Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, who, in June 2001, left her husband and two young boys for six months to go to Japan to do research for a book.  While there, not only does 9/11 happen but her marriage of twenty years begins to fall apart.  Away from her family, as the world grapples with the events of 9/11, she wrestles with her ambivalence about being a wife and mother.  Part Japanese, she went there to “get a deeper understanding of her war-torn heritage” by interviewing survivors of Hiroshima.  Her way of life shattered, she wrote a memoir, Hiroshima in the morning, weaving her story, with those of the people interviewed.  In the end, she decides to leave her husband and children to pursue her career, and she has received a lot of criticism for her choice.  In the interview this morning, she said she’d lost herself within the marriage, and within the motherhood role, which she never wanted in the first place.

 

I mention this book, because I resonate with Ms. Rizzuto.   As I struggle with writing about myself, she reminds me that these days, personal narratives are common, and that putting yourself out there is scary, and sometimes dangerous, but may help others who are struggling with similar issues.  Like her, I never felt called to motherhood, but unlike her, I didn’t disregard my feelings; and for this I am grateful. When I was younger, I believed that if I brought a child into the world, that child needed to be my first priority, and I was too busy recovering from my own childhood to put myself second.  It also seems that, like me, the author  has borne the weight of political trauma; although she was born in this country, the atrocities experienced by her ancestors in Hiroshima, haunted her enough to leave the safety of her life to seek their, and in the process, her story.  It’s interesting that, likewise, a friend and I are planning to interview older Cubans about their experiences during and after the Cuban Revolution.  But, unlike Ms. Rizzuto, who is a writer and a faculty member at New York City College with a clear professional identity that has resulted in an award-winning career, I am seeking to discover what I am called to do at this time.

 

I thought for a moment of ending my blog here, but I lacked closure.  As a teacher, no matter what different turns a discussion has taken, I always try to end the class by helping my students identify what, if anything, they are taking away, because I don’t do linear lectures.  The phrase, the path of least resistance comes to mind.  And, I wonder whether for Ms. Rizzuto marriage and motherhood was that path; although less so now than it was thirty years ago when she seems to have made her choices, women are still expected to be wives and mothers.  As for me, while I was tenaciously resisting traditional narratives about marriage and motherhood, I neglected to choose a career.  As I said in an earlier blog, my academic career just happened; just like medical school happened for a dear friend of mine.

 

Now, I have to do the work that I didn’t do then.  But, perhaps that was the right path for me then, and that is why I fell into it, and academia may be the right path now, though I don’t really know that, yet, as I am still discovering and uncovering.  The “take-away” for me is that, different paths are “right” at different times in our lives, depending on our emotional maturity, spiritual consciousness, and context; and that, my responsibility is to be mindful of, if not responsive to, where my heart wants to lead me, though that’s a struggle!  And, since I don’t know where I am going, I might as well appreciate where I am today.  According to the The Tao Te Ching (Mitchell, 1994), p. 27:

 

A good traveler has no fixed plans

and is not intent upon arriving.

A good artist lets his intuition

lead him wherever it wants.

A good scientist has freed himself of concepts

and keeps his mind open to what is.

 

Mitchell, S. (1994). Tao te ching: A new English version: HarperCollins Publishers.

Rizzuto, R. R. (2010).  Hiroshima in the morning.  New York:  The Feminist Press.

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I have begun to have an idea of life, not as the shaping of achievement to fit my preconceived ideas, but as the gradual discovery of a purpose which I did not yet know.

–Joanna Field


In the social work and spirituality class I teach on Tuesdays, we took a spiritual/life inventory about where we were and where we saw ourselves in the future. J., a 26- year-old woman, who is expecting her first child, shared that she discovered from the exercise that she had no fun in her life right now. When I asked whether that is something she is missing, she said she was choosing to sacrifice now, and to have fun later. Then she said, “I don’t mean to offend the older students in this class, but I am starting my profession now that I am young, so that I can get it over with.”

 

At twenty, and in my masters of social work program, I sat in her chair; I remember looking around at the middle age women in the room, and thinking how smart I was, to know then, what had taken them so long to discover—that they wanted to be social workers. Funny J. should say that, when now in my mid life, I am trying to discover what I want to be when I grow up. For the first time in 55 years, I get to choose, and I am not sure I know how because I did my share of what I was “supposed to do. Although social work fits my commitment to service, healing, and social justice, I went to social work school because I was not ready for the real world. It is ironic that instead of escaping the writing demons that persecuted me since grade school, I would choose graduate school and writing more papers! After graduating with a Master’s I spent three years in the real world before fleeing back to school for a doctorate, and, you guessed it, more writing. Well, you know the rest—24 years of failed publication expectations, and three out of four failed contract renewals, again, because as painful as it was, school felt safer than not. I have a pattern going, here, and perhaps it’s time to change it. I have to stop running away from one perceived evil into the arms of another.

 

It seems that throughout my career, I have alternated between Limbo and Purgatory. For those of you who are not Catholic, Limbo is the place where souls who are not baptized go when they die. I am in academic limbo, because I am not tenured. Purgatory is the place where souls that don’t make it automatically to heaven go to purge, or to cleanse themselves in preparation for heaven. On some level, I feel like I am purging for the “heavenly” job that awaits me. But is there a job heaven? But wait; there is also hell. Oh, never mind, I have already been there, and I must remember not to return. Hell is being forced to do politically correct work instead of the work that my heart longs to do. Years ago, when I still had hopes that I could have a research career, I wrote a grant proposal to study spiritual coping, and I was told that I couldn’t; not only that, but I was accused of wearing my spirituality on my sleeve, and I promise you, I was not walking around the university carrying tarot cards and crystals. Do I really want to return to academia?

 

The water is becoming clearer, though I am sure it will get muddy again (Waiting for the mud to settle). I do not want a tenure-track position. I choose to write and do research without having an axe over my head; to teach, to mentor, and to develop curricula that will honor the whole person, not just the head. But it is difficult to break away from outdated notions that we must remain at a job for our entire lives! And, as difficult, if not more is not to feel like a failure when defying traditional expectations, you choose other paths. I But then, again, that is the story of my life—I am the one who delayed marriage until her forties, and along the way, forgot to have children. I must remember that life is not about achievement; life is about purpose. I see that, swimming against the current has been arduous, but it has made e stronger and given me muscles!

 

Note:  The Joanna Field quote can be found in:  Carpenter, C. (2001). Chapters: create a life of exhilaration and accomplishment in the face of change: McGraw-Hill Companies.

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